The Evolution of Barbie

Heather Choi , Staff Writer

A girl is shopping with her mom for her new dolls. As she enters the aisle, she sees pink boxes lining up on top of the shelf. She sees there are two different versions of Barbie, the old and the new. She chooses the new Barbie instead. What happened to the old Barbie? Well, it became an outdated, and often unwanted, doll. 

In the past, there were numerous studies that stated how these dolls affected girls’ self esteem based on beauty standards. According to the Journal of Developmental Psychology 2006, they found that a girl who has Barbie experiences a greater concern of being thin compared to girls who have other dolls (Dockterman, 2020).  However, thinness is not the only factor of criticism; other factors include body shape and size, facial structure, skin tone, and hair type. 

Now, Barbie has become the most diverse doll, made up of 176 dolls with 8 body types, 35 skin tones, and 94 hairstyles to reflect the world we see today. Besides physical features, it also introduced Barbie in STEM fields, in hijab, and as hearing impaired (Lewis, 2020). In addition, they introduced Barbie with vitiligo, an autoimmune condition with no cure causing white patches or irregular shapes on the skin that can grow and spread due to loss of melanin. Lastly, they introduced Barbie with prosthetic limbs, bald, and in wheelchairs (Cramer, 2020). The purpose is to ¨let Barbie continue the journey to represent global diversity and inclusivity in the fashion doll aisle by showcasing a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion,” a spokesperson for Mattel told CBS News (Lewis, 2020) .

However, it isn’t only Barbie who changed. Ken doll has also changed his look as well.  In 2017, Mattel, Inc. released 15 different versions of Ken with seven skin tones and three body types –  slim, original, and broad (Harding, 2017).  It not only gave him a new look, it also featured him wearing various clothing ranging from skinny ties to plaid shirts to sports wear (Harding, 2017). Another unique twist is new hair styles including cornrows, man buns, and long hair (Harding, 2017).   As a result, Mattel announced it will include 25 more different Ken dolls to its lineup (Harding, 2017).  “By continuing to expand our product line, we are redefining what a Barbie or Ken doll looks like to this generation,” said Lisa McKnight, Barbie senior vice president and general manager. 

Finally, Barbie is introducing gender neutral dolls as younger generations divert from gender conformities. A recent trend shows that children no longer want their toys to be gender-specific (Sparks, 2019). A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, shows that 27% of California teens identify as gender-nonconforming (Dockterman, 2019). Pew Research Center found in 2018 that 35% of Gen Z-ers (born 1995 to 2015) say they personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns like “they” and “them,” compared with just 16% of Gen X-ers (born 1965 to 1980). Due to this influence these kinds of patterns are projected to continue with Generation Alpha, who was born in 2010 and later (Docketerman, 2019).

As Mattel continues to modernize to better represent all individuals, it is exciting to see what will be next for Barbie.